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Tokelau to become world’s first solar-powered nation

The Tokelau group of islands in the South Pacific is gearing up to become the world’s first wholly solar-powered nation.

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According to a report, over 4,000 solar panels across the New Zealand territory’s three atolls – Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu – will supply electricity to the atolls’ more than 1,400 people and prevent 12,000 tons of carbon emissions over its life span.

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Located in the Western Polynesian tropical moist forests region, Tokelau enjoys sunshine all year round, which makes solar installations well-suited for the area.

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The 10-square-kilometer island is 95 percent dependent on foreign petroleum, importing more than 2,000 barrels of diesel annually to meet its energy demands. That’s equivalent to 1 million New Zealand dollars ($800,000).

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In an interview with, Powersmart Solar director Mike Bassett said the project will generate cost savings in the long run, saying the system will “repay itself in five years and have a 20-year life before it needs any sort of significant maintenance.”

Upon completion, it will eliminate diesel consumption while delivering 24-hour consistent electricity supply to all households in the three atolls, compared with the typical “peak demand” supply that the islanders get for about 15 to 18 hours per day.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, Pacific island nation countries are among the most petroleum-dependent nations and territories in the world. But Tokelau will be the first to meet electricity needs entirely through renewable energy by the end of 2012.

During the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Tokelau said it would tackle fossil fuel alternatives to mitigate its climate footprints.

Energy is among the five priorities under the Tokelau National Strategic Plan for Infrastructure and Development of 2004, which includes 100 percent renewable energy as “ultimate goal.” This has been supported by the United Nations Development Programme and the government of New Zealand, which provided the 7.5 million dollars ($6 million) of funding for the solar plant under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. – C. Dominguez

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